I was privileged and honored last week to speak at the 49th annual meeting of the American Peanut Research and Education Society (APRES). The talk was well received. Well, no one pummeled me with produce, so I call that a success.
My friend Peter Dotray, Extension weed specialist at the Research and Extension Center in Lubbock, also a Texas Tech professor and the new APRES president, asked me to speak, mostly on the changes I’ve seen in agriculture over the course of the last four decades. In other words, he asked me to speak because I’m old. I was happy to.
I chose as the title of my talk “As Luck Would have it: Reflections on 39 Years as an Accidental Farm Writer.” I explained that a career in agricultural journalism was not something I ever expected to follow. “I really wanted to be a football coach.”
I also explained that by sheer happenstance I stumbled into a career that has provided a good living and more personal satisfaction than I ever imagined. I suspect that after a few losing seasons my career in coaching would have been in shambles.
I will not attempt to duplicate that talk here. It went on (and on and on and on) for more than 4,000 words. But I will abbreviate the high—or the least low—points. I have witnessed and written about significant changes in agriculture since I signed on with Southeast Farm Press in 1978. Some of those include: the Boll Weevil Eradication Program; transgenic crops; global positioning system agriculture; computerization of agriculture (business records, media, communication, etc.); significant improvements in varieties—higher yields, improved disease and insect tolerance, some drought tolerance—more efficient machinery; and much more irrigated acreage.
I’ve watched farmers adopt conservation tillage systems and integrated pest management programs that emphasize scouting and targeting specific insects while saving beneficials. I have written about chemical companies’ new pesticides that are more environmentally friendly and effective at much lower rates—milligrams per acre instead of pounds.
CHANGES ON THE FARM
I’ve watched farm programs change—from quota systems to a minimal safety net that depends on crop insurance. I’ve seen farm numbers dwindle and farm sizes increase. I’ve watched young people leave the farm for less risky careers and I’ve seen them return to carry on the traditions.
During the four decades I’ve been observing and writing about agriculture, I’ve logged a lot of miles, interviewed a lot of farmers and made a lot of friends. I have been amazed at the pace of innovation and incredible advances in production and efficiency. But the one factor that has made my accidental career a rewarding profession has been the opportunity to meet hundreds of committed, hard-working, successful farmers.
To quote myself, an admittedly egotistical exercise, here is how I described the people I’ve encountered. “I have met men and women who touched my heart in ways too profound to explain. I have interviewed farmers and ranchers who personify what the term ‘salt of the earth’ means. I have gotten so close to many farm families that we seem to be related….
“I’ve witnessed courage beyond imagining, patience beyond belief and faith beyond comprehension. As luck would have it, I have spent going on 40 years doing something I love to do. Maybe I have an accidental career, but I can’t help but detect a bit of divine intervention in it.”